29 Jan PowerLight Technologies is developing wireless ‘power beaming’
By Andrew McIntosh – Staff Writer, Puget Sound Business Journal
Jan 18, 2018, 2:00pm
PowerLight Technologies CEO Richard Gustafson believes that the power-beaming technology his company is developing could change the world.
Take Puerto Rico, where thousands of people are still without power after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“Imagine an emergency ship moored offshore, beaming power to where it’s needed in a post-hurricane or earthquake response situation,” Gustafson said.
PowerLight’s leaders also envision delivering power to unmanned aerial drones in the air and using much lighter fiber-optic power cables to circulate electricity in airplanes.
The company’s technology could aid the military in battlefield, beaming power to tactical or combat units, Gustafson said. Optical power is stealthy and undetectable, especially when remotely powering surveillance drones. This could allow batteries to keep their charge without generators or fuel.
In the telecom industry, PowerLight’s technology could power cell phone towers in remote areas not served by electrical towers. Smart homes could be powered with electricity beamed into the residence instead of carried through the house on copper wires.
“We’re talking about disrupting the world of wired power,” Gustafson said.
The implications are so large that it can be difficult to stay focused, he said.
“We decided to focus first on power over fiber,” Gustafson added.
Formerly known as LaserMotive, PowerLight decided its first commercial products should focus on delivering optical power across fiber optic cables.
The company recently demonstrated its power-over-fiber technology for unmanned underwater vehicles and it went well.
It has also done field testing and validation work with major government agencies such as the FBI, the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA, as well as global companies such as Airbus and Lockheed Martin.
As part of its transition to selling products on commercial markets, PowerLight has three new corporate advisers: Barrie Graham, a senior adviser at WR Hambrecht+Co; James Judson, a telecom industry executive and venture capitalist who co-founded Eagle River Investments; and Kent Williams, an investment adviser at Vista Asset Management LLC who has expertise in the automotive, battery, intellectual property and alternative energy sectors.
The three advisers are also shareholders in the private company, according to PowerLight Chairman Claes Olsson, a Swedish businessman and investor.
As NASA points out on its own website, the concept of wireless transmission of electrical energy is not exactly new. The idea of “power beaming” has been around for decades, proposed primarily for space-based solar farms to supply energy to an energy-impoverished Earth or the surface of another world.
Until recently, laser technology wasn’t advanced enough to ensure commercial success, but that has started to change, according to Lingze Duan, an assistant physics professor and director of the Precision Ultrafast Light Sciences group at University of Alabama in Huntsville.
“Lasers now have more power, and they can build them pretty compact to deliver power,” Duan said. “A lot of this comes from NASA and the military because remote energy delivery and energy for destroying targets is a big area of interest,” said Duan, whose own university is near a military base working on the technology.
PowerLight has received a $4 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense to back its work.
The company has also won two awards for its efforts from NASA, including $900,000 after it successfully demonstrated in a 2009 NASA challenge that it could beam 400 watts of power over 1 kilometer, or almost two-thirds of a mile.
Duan said he can’t predict how long until PowerLight brings its technology to market. The company has been in stealth mode for four years and little of its information is available to the public.
“But one of the challenges they will have will be the issue of safety,” Duan predicted.
Tom Nugent, PowerLight’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said the issue of safety surrounding high intensity laser beams has been “a prime part of our development efforts.”
“We have to show that these systems are safe, even though these lasers are being operated in ways not seen in the past.”
Added Gustafson: “We’re very clear. It has to be safe and it has to be easy to use.”
How it works: Beam me up
PowerLight uses lasers to convert electricity to light. The company says it can safely beam the light to a high-efficiency receiver where the light is converted back into usable electricity. Energy can travel long distances, at high altitudes and in the deep sea. The company is now developing products for the aerospace, telecom, disaster response and border safety sectors.